THE INTERVIEW Tichaona Zindoga
TZ: How do you view the system of post-Cabinet reports to the media? Has it enhanced Government communications and interface with the media
MM: The post-Cabinet Media Briefings have gone a long way in giving expression to His Excellency, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s thrust of establishing a transparent, accountable and open Government. Any democracy functions well when there is access to information for the citizenry. These briefings have enabled members of the Fourth Estate (traditional media), and of late the Fifth Estate (social media), to clarify issues directly with line ministers who grace this platform. This helps build strong relations between the media and Government. More importantly, Government is prioritising economics over politics, hence, all key economic decisions made in Cabinet need to be expeditiously communicated to business for them to make appropriate business decisions on the basis of Government pronouncements.
TZ: Has Government considered a Government Information Communications service as in South Africa?
MM: In principle, the ministry acknowledges the importance of establishing such a platform where all Government communications are channelled to its citizens. Government information hubs are key as they are a platform where useful information from locals and foreigners are located. Since we are living in the digital age, where information plays a key role in modern day statecraft, the ministry has established a Twitter handle, YouTube channel pursuant to that goal. Efforts are at an advanced stage to come up with a website that would be the hub of all Government communications. Links to all key Government services, press releases, directories, speeches, opportunities, etc, will be available on this platform.
TZ: What is your assessment of the state of the media in Zimbabwe and what issues have you derived from IMPI?
MM: The media environment in Zimbabwe was, and remains, polarised as a result of the toxic politics of yesteryear. There is a general mistrust that existed between Government, particularly in the First Republic, and the media fraternity. This mistrust still subsists in some instances. There are ethical and professional issues that still need redress in order for the polarisation to dissipate, going forward.
On the part of Government we are already implementing our reform agenda, starting with an all stakeholders’ conference end of this month – the idea being to realign our efforts as Zimbabweans with the President’s vision of an open society, where media practitioners practise without fear or favour, ethically and professionally. Zimbabwe is open for media business. Issues to do with inadequate training need redress.
On deriving issues from the IMPI, Government’s position is that it will factor in compatible recommendations from the inquiry, as well as from all other stakeholders in the media industry and citizens.
It must be appreciated that, while there are quite a lot of positive recommendations in the IMPI report, there is need to align some of the recommendations with the thrust of the new dispensation.
Cognisant of the foregoing, the ministry is in the process of distilling its media policy from the findings of the IMPI. It is still premature to discuss specifics which have been adopted as consultations are underway to see what is and what is not achievable. What I can tell you is that reformation, training and professionalisation of the media industry is at the uppermost of Government priorities.
TZ: How are you going to reform entities under your purview and what will be the guiding principles for doing so?
MM: It is instructive that your question presupposes the need for reform. Reform is a corrective function of that which is presumed to be operating sub-optimally. However, in answering your question, the driving principle is that we are in a new dispensation, where the overall goal is to ensure the provision of professional, accurate and balanced media output that enhances Zimbabwe`s democracy credentials.
In that regard, issues to do with professionalising and equipping content-creating institutions and re-aligning them to meet the ever-changing technology-driven industry is of paramount importance. Such institutions need to be able to compete in a liberalised media market, where such institutions will face stiff competition from private players.
The Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) and Vision 2030 have placed a premium on the need for good corporate governance to ensure the eradication of corruption in the public sector, primarily parastatals. In that vein, the ministry will seek to reform parastatals under its ambit to ensure their profitability and, in the process, lessen the financial burden on the fiscus.
TZ: How should the media relate, espouse and mediate President ED Mnangagwa’s Vision 2030?
MM: It is not the brief of the new dispensation to prescribe how the media ought to report on news. However, it is common cause that is always an expectation that the media should put national interest first, since we are Zimbabweans first, and everything else later. The media should work behind the Zimbabwe Flag. We only expect media to do their job objectively by explaining and breaking down Vision 2030, such that an ordinary person can have an appreciation of where Government is taking us in the long term. For instance, what does a middle income economy mean? How does it ensure dollars trickle into citizens’ pockets? Figures and statistics do no not communicate with the ordinary people, they confuse and obfuscate the message. It is the duty of the media to explain, critique and simplify Vision 2030 into everyday language.
TZ: A growing concern on the need for the transformation of newsrooms is that of gender? How ministry entities should reflect transformation along those lines.
MM: Section 17 of the Constitution is explicit on issues to do with gender representation. It specifically talks about equal opportunities for women and men alike. Patriarchy has been pervasive in the work environment across all sectors. However, as a ministry led by a woman, there will be concerted efforts to ensure equal opportunities based on merit for all qualifying women in the media industry.
It must be noted that gender streamlining is a process, not an event. It would be counter-productive to simply get women good posts in the newsroom based on gender alone. There equally important considerations such as qualifications, competent and ability. However, concerted efforts will be made to rid newsrooms of vices such as sexual harassment based on gender.